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Freedom, Farmersville elections turn on wind power

The future of wind energy is on the line in this election in two Cattaraugus County towns: Freedom and Farmersville.

The shadow of dozens of 600-foot wind turbines from the proposed Alle-Catt Wind Farm is cast over the two towns in the northeastern part of the county.

Invenergy, the Chicago-based wind developer, has been in the area for four years trying to sell the wind farm’s economic benefits to municipalities – Freedom and Farmersville in Cattaraugus County and Centerville and Rushford in Allegany County.

In Freedom, two town councilmen – one pro-wind, the other anti-wind – are running for supervisor.

Dustin Bliss and Geoff Milks battled in the Republican primary in June, with Milks winning by one vote. Bliss is the Democrat candidate and Milks is the Republican and Conservative candidate.

“The windmills are a dead issue,” Bliss said Tuesday. “They are coming whether we like it or not.”

Bliss was offered a wind lease, but was told by Invenergy it was non-negotiable when he raised certain issues. Later, he was told not enough of his neighbors participated, so no turbines would be located on his property.

Bliss said he has reservations about the state cramming things on people in rural areas like Freedom, “but you have to focus on what you can control. I want the best deal for Freedom.”

“I think a lot of people are sick of the wind project,” Bliss said. “There are bigger issues for the town. The windmills are a done deal.” The town could receive between $650,000 and $1.2 million a year in benefits from Alle-Catt, he said. That’s more than the town tax levy, he added. “We’ll be able to get rid of town taxes and have money left over for roads.”

Bliss denied that he had wind leases on his property. He said Invenergy told him not enough of his neighbors signed leases. “There won’t be (a lease) on my land.” The company would have paid about $15,000 a year for each of the leases.

Milks, questioned whether Bliss’ property is no longer being considered by Invenergy for wind leases. He has a copy of a lease on six properties with Invenergy signed by Bliss and his wife in 2018.

Milks is predicting a close election – as close as the Republican primary in which he defeated Bliss by one vote. He’s knocking on a lot of doors seeking support for his candidacy.

“About one-third of people are against the wind farm, one-third are in favor and one-third are undecided,” Milks said. He said Bliss’ estimates of Alle-Catt revenue for the town “sound a little exaggerated.”

As far as Bliss saying the wind farm was a done deal, Milks replied, “It’s not over until it’s over. The town has not negotiated for enough money and Invenergy is not complying with current town law on setbacks.”

Milk said, “The setbacks are pretty awful – 600 feet in the 2019 local law the state is using, not the 3,000 feet in the town’s 2020 law.” The state, he said, should not proceed before litigation is completed. “We’d be foolish to negotiate with the company prior to the litigation being settled.”

Milks said his objective is to defeat both Bliss and the current supervisor, Randy Lester, who is not seeking re-election, but is running for a councilman’s seat on the town board.

“I think it’s going to be a close race,” Milks said. “I’m running as a regular citizen trying to make a difference, not a politician.”

Councilman candidates Lester and fellow Democrat Arthur Baker are in favor of Invenergy’s proposed wind farm, while Robert Morgan and Joshua Aarum, the Republican and Conservative Party candidates, are running against the wind project.

In the next-door town of Farmersville, the proposed wind farm is just as controversial and candidates are just as divided.

There are four candidates running for two seats for four-year terms.

Incumbent Councilman Pamela Tilton is running on the Democrat and Republican lines, as is candidate Dale Scurr. Both are in favor of the wind farm.

They are being challenged by two candidates on the Conservative Party line, Douglas Thompson and James Karaszewski, who both oppose the Alle-Catt project.

In addition to Tilton’s term, the term of Councilman Donna Vickman, a Democrat, is also expiring. Vickman did not seek re-election.

Vickman, Supervisor Francis “Pete” Lounsbury and Deputy Supervisor Mark Heberling made for a 3-2 voting block against wind farm supporters Tilton and Richard Westfall.